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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
February 15, 1996

Thursday, February 8, 1996

[This activity took place at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.]

Dr. Perry: What a beautiful day in Tampa. When my team and I left Washington this morning -- ice, snow, sleet, cold. And then in two and half hours we were in MacDill Air Force Base. I walked out of the airplane; we could hardly believe the beautiful weather that was awaiting us.

But, it was not only the warm weather; the warm reception, Colonel Olinger, General Peay, General Downing, and their teams; and then tonight the very warm reception from the business and the political leaders in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Not just for our delegation, but I want to thank this community for the years and years of the warm reception you've given our military personnel here. We really appreciate it and I thank you. [Applause]

I want to tell you that the discussions about the closing of MacDill Air Force Base are history. [Applause]

I want to talk to you tonight about Bosnia. It's on my mind, probably on your mind as well. And, I just got back from a visit there a few weeks ago. It started off in Italy where we have the air bases that support -- and have supported for years, actually -- the operation in Bosnia. First of all, in Aviano, Italy, where our fighter aircraft are based. For more than two years, they have been supporting what's called Operation DENY FLIGHT. Little known, little understood by the American public. But, what that operation has done for the last few years has prevented the war in Bosnia from including the bombardment of cities from the air, which surely would have happened were it not for Operation DENY FLIGHT.

That operation -- which was run by NATO, about half of which included U.S. airplanes -- was challenged just once, when six Bosnian Serb airplanes began to bomb the cities of Bosnia. They were attacked by two

F-16s. Two of them got away. The other four were shot down. From that time on, no Bosnian Serb airplane has ever challenged Operation DENY FLIGHT.

More recently, after the Srebrenica atrocities, NATO air was called on to attack the Bosnian Serbs after they refused to stop the bombardment on the ground in Sarajevo. This was, perhaps, the single most successful bombing campaign ever conducted in history. It was just a little over 1,000 sorties attacking fewer than 100 targets. Every target was destroyed. No airplanes were lost from the United States. And, most significantly, there was absolutely no collateral damage because of the use of precision guided munitions, with very strict rules of engagement, which required the pilot to visually observe the target before he could release the precision guided munitions.

When I was in Aviano, I thanked the pilots for their contribution not just for saving thousands of lives of Bosnians in the last few years, but through their air operation -- more than anything else -- they drove the Bosnian Serbs to the peace table in Dayton that led to the peace agreement, which we finally got. We suspected that at the time. Since then, I and other Americans have talked with the Bosnian Serb leadership and the Serbian leadership and have learned the extent to which they were truly stunned and truly intimidated by this very effective and this very impressive demonstration of NATO air power. By the way, much of the combat search and rescue of all of the air operation was provided by the Special Operations unit under the command of General Downing.

We went from Aviano to Vicenza, Italy. Now, Vicenza has two different air operations going on there. One of them is the ground based CAOC, as we call it, or the Combined Air Operations Center, which provides intelligence support to the air operations over Bosnia. This is a truly amazing operation. It operated during the period when Captain O'Grady was shot down. We thought it was a pretty good operation then. It provided real- time intelligence support to the air operations. In that case, it detected that the Bosnian Serbs had brought a surface-to-air missile on the air and it was getting ready to fire at Captain O'Grady. They detected that and just eight minutes after the radar had come on the air, got that message to Captain O'Grady. Unfortunately, the missile had reached the airplane five-minutes after they detected it. And so we concluded we had a very good operation in terms of sensing what was going on, but we were too slow in getting the information out to the people who needed it. So, we had a very intensive study and very substantial change in operations.

One of the things I wanted to do when I went to Vicenza was see whether those changes have really taken hold. The answer was they have. We now have a turn around time of intelligence measured in seconds instead of measured in minutes. So, I was very impressed with the air operation in Vicenza. We're going to now try to replicate that on the ground operation in Bosnia and in air operations all over the world.

The other impressive aspect of Vicenza is they are now the quarterback to all of the airlift operations going into Bosnia. In the last month and a half we have had a truly fantastic airlift going into Bosnia everyday. Perhaps 30 or 40 transport airplanes landing at either Sarajevo or Tuzla or Taszar, Hungary, all providing support for that air operation. And, in the face of truly frightful weather -- heavy fog, snow, and ice. In the face of that very adverse weather, we have sustained what is really quite a massive airlift operation of thousands of planes having landed there, and provided the lifeline of support for that operation.

From Italy, we left our passenger plane and got on a C-17 and flew to Taszar, Hungary. In Taszar, we have a logistics center for the whole operation in Bosnia. All of our troops, all of our equipment coming from Germany, goes into Taszar, Hungary by train. We've had now, to this point, more than 300 trains go from Germany into Hungary -- each one of which has perhaps 20 or 30 freight cars, so this is really a massive operation. At Taszar, they unload, they reassemble [weapons and equipment] and then the [soldiers] went by tactical units into Tuzla, in tactical combat formations with all guns loaded. Troops had their flak jackets and their Kevlar helmets on. Guns loaded. They were prepared for anything we might meet within Bosnia. As it turns out, we did not meet any resistance in Bosnia. I can now say, with some confidence, we are not going to meet any armed resistance, any organized armed resistance in Bosnia.

We will probably have Monday morning quarterbacks saying we overreached. We had too large a force. We had it too well armed when we went in, because it turned out there was no resistance. But, if I had to err in terms of sending the troops in, I want to err on the side of being too well armed rather than not well enough armed. Besides which, we will never know the extent to which that formidable presence might have discouraged anybody from resisting them on the way in. I can tell you it was a very formidable presence both going in and now as they are in position in Bosnia.

This logistics operation in Taszar, Hungary gets very little attention, very little publicity. But logistics is the key for our success there. We have 7,000 people in Hungary getting all the troops and equipment in [to Bosnia] and providing the daily replenishment of supplies. This is one of the best managed logistics operations I've ever seen. We learned quite a bit from the mistakes we made in DESERT STORM, and incorporated them into planning for this operation and it is truly a model of effectiveness.

 

One other thing I want to mention about Hungary is we are supported there by the Hungarian government. When we identified this location and we wanted to use as a replenishment base, we asked the Hungarian government and the government told us yes, but they would have to take it to their parliament. They took it to their parliament. The vote in parliament in support of providing this base to the Americans was 300 to 1.

I pass that onto you because you may not realize the extent to which what we are doing in Europe is supported by all the other countries in Europe, including Hungary, which, is formerly a Warsaw Pact member -- just six or seven years ago was one of our enemies.

From Taszar, Hungary we got back on the C-17 and flew into Sarajevo. We arrived in Sarajevo on a typical Bosnian day. Sarajevo was completely socked-in -- the clouds were about 2,000 or 3,000 feet. But, we had good enough navigation equipment to land anyway. I was sitting behind the pilot -- in the jump-seat -- as the plane started approaching the runway, and right in front of me was our missile detection and warning device, a computerized device. And as we came down, I heard a synthesized computerized woman's voice saying, "Missile launch - Missile launch." And, that really got my attention. [Laughter] And then the pilot reached back and turned it off. That got my attention, too. [Laughter] And I said, "Why did you do that?" And he said, "Because it's a false alarm. There's no missile down there." It turns out he was right. But, at the time, I wasn't entirely sure of that. His reasoning was simple and clear. He knew from intelligence that there were no radar guided missiles down there. There were only, at best, the worst man-portable shoulder-type missiles and we knew that they could not fire a shoulder-fired missile at an airplane when you can't see . And, we were completely above the cloud bank. Nobody could see that airplane. We landed at the Sarajevo airport.

We went from the Sarajevo airport into the center of Sarajevo to the president's office. As we drove into Sarajevo, I was just heartsick to see what had happened to that city. I knew what had happened, read about it for years. There had been days when a thousand shells a day had gone into that city. You could actually see the devastation that it caused. There was hardly a building that had not been hit by a shell. Some of the buildings had been reduced to rubble. This was once of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It was just in rubble.

 

That was the heartsick part of it. The heartening part of is that as we drove into Sarajevo, we went down what used to be called "snipers alley," on which it was simply not safe to walk or drive just a few months ago. But, we drove with complete security, complete confidence there, because the war was now over.

We got into the president's palace. I met with president and his cabinet, I had a very good meeting with them. This meeting was suppose to be in privacy for security reasons, but the security wasn't very effective, because when we came out of the president's office, there on the other side of the street about 300 or 400 Bosnians had gathered. All of them wanted to see this strange phenomenon who was the American Secretary of Defense. As I walked out of the door, all 300 or 400 simultaneously started cheering and shouting, "U-S-A, U-S-A!" And, then, I did something, which drove my security people absolutely "bonkers". I crossed the street and went through the police cordon and went over and started shaking hands and talking with the Bosnians.

This was, to me, the highlight of the trip. The most heartwarming moment of the trip, because each person I talked to, many of them were in tears, but all of them were trying in their broken English to express to me their appreciation of having brought peace to their city. These people had lived through four years of shelling in that city. All of them saw that there was a chance for peace now, and all of them believed that there's only one reason for that and that was the actions taken by the United States. They just wanted to express their thanks for that. I represented to them the United States Government.

We came back to the airport and got in the C-17 again, and then flew to Tuzla, which is the headquarters of the U.S. multinational division. I met with General Nash. I met him at the airport. We got in Black Hawks and flew into Croatia, right across the Sava River. The Sava River was the one we had to cross to get from Taszar, Hungary, through Croatia, and into Tuzla, Bosnia. We allocated about four or five or six days to building a pontoon bridge across the Sava River to get into Tuzla. Our engineers were confident and told me this was "no sweat." This river was about the width of the Rhine River and the engineers has built this pontoon bridge across the Rhine River several times. And, so, they starting building it [across the Sava River]. On the second day into the building, they had the greatest flood that they've had all century in the Sava River. The Sava River all of a sudden became twice as wide and completely washed away the embankments on which they were building the bridge.

So, it ended up two weeks, not one week [to build the bridge]. And they used the materials they had for both the north and south direction of the bridge to build one bridge twice as long as the one they had [planned for]. They ended up building the longest pontoon bridge that's ever been built in history.

And their camps were washed out by the floods. When I got there, it was a sight to behold, as I said, the camp -- you could look down -- and, it was flooded over. The river was over its banks and twice as wide as it should have been. They completed the new wider bridge and the tanks and the equipment were crossing it.

So, we landed on the Croatia side and got off and decided to walk into Bosnia, across the bridge. We did that and about halfway across, there were 30 or 40 of the combat engineers who had built that bridge still working on one section of it there. We stopped and talked with them. They were cold and dirty and muddy and exhausted, but very, very proud of what they had done. And one of them, as it turned out, his enlistment period was over that week and he decided to re-enlist. And, so, he got General Joulwan and General Shalikashvili and myself to re-enlist him. We stood in the middle of the Sava River bridge and General Joulwan had him hold up his hand and I swore him in and signed him up for four more years in the Army. I was standing there thinking, "My God, this is true grit." He had just been through one of the most harrying experiences and exhausting experiences in his life and he's ready to sign up for four more years of it. And, I have never in my life been more proud of the U.S. Army than I was at that moment.

We then crossed the bridge into Bosnia and went back to the helicopters and flew back into the Tuzla base and walked around and visited with some of the soldiers who were out on patrol there. It was cold and muddy, but their spirits were quite high. And, I found out one of the reasons their spirits were high was because we had Air Force units and Navy units -- Seabees -- that had been flown in to build real warm, dry tents for them. So, the camps were being built back there, and everyday the soldiers returned from patrol, they would discover maybe 20 more tents, so they didn't have to sleep in the mud. This was jointness in operation -- the Navy and the Air Force building the tents for the Army who was out on patrol. I don't think there was ever a time when the Army more appreciated the Air Force and Navy than these warm, dry tents that they built for them.

Also, I had quite a long discussion in Tuzla with our intelligence officers, who gave me their detailed assessment of the mine problem in Tuzla, and in Bosnia, generally. They estimated there were well over a million mines in that area -- which is the bad news. The good news was that all three of the warring factions had done their best to give them the charts that they had of where the mines were located, and they were busy working to remove those mines. Nevertheless, General Shali and I both, as we went by and talked with the soldiers, talked to the leaders, had, really, two messages for them, that this is clearly going to be a dangerous situation for months to come. And, the first message was, pay attention to detail. Be careful. Because we don't have any magic technology to take care of mines. We deal with mines by being very careful and paying great attention to procedures. And, the second thing that we said to them was, take care of each other. Help your buddy.

And, the response we got from them was very heartwarming, and I was proud of all the troops I saw over there and I think the American people should be proud of their soldiers and the sailors and the airmen, Seabees, and the Marines, who are all working in Bosnia to bring peace.

 

I'd like to close with a quote from General Omar Bradley who said, "Our military forces are a team. They're in the game to win and each player on that team must be an All-American." Our Navy, our Air Force, our Army, our Marines, and our Special Operations people have been playing like a team and winning like never before. Each service on that team and each player is an All-American. I saw this when I was in Tuzla. I saw it at the Sava River bridge crossing. I saw it on the tarmac in Aviano. I've seen it on the decks of aircraft carriers and the destroyer GETTYSBURG, in the Gulf. I see it every time I come to MacDill.

CENTCOM -- Central Command -- and the Special Operations Command have brought the idea of joint teamwork to new heights. You can be proud of the team you're on, and I am proud to be on this team with you. Thank you very much. [Applause] Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, would you be good enough to comment about the Soviet Union's attitude to participate in what's going on in Bosnia today?

A: I'm glad you asked that question. I talked about visiting General Nash in the multinational division. This division has about the largest division -- about 25,000 troops, of which 17,000 or 18,000 are Americans. Another 4,000 are from the Nordic brigade. Two of the brigades in this division are American. The third brigade is the Nordic brigade that consists of a combination of Norwegians, Swedes, Fins, Danes, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Poles. It's quite an interesting brigade. They were there by the way before we got there and they provided us very good background knowledge of the terrain and the people. There's also a Turkish small brigade there -- about 1,500 to 2,000 people, when its fully manned. They are in the southern part of our region. They are particularly useful in dealing with some of the Muslim forces in that area. And, then, there's a Turkish brigade. Pardon me, a Russian brigade. That brigade is also what we would call a small brigade. It has somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people.

When I was at the defense ministers meeting in October, I raised -- all of our defense ministers discussed the IFOR operation and whether or not we wanted a Russian brigade to join us. We all concluded that we did, provided they were willing to work with the unitary chain of command. And, I was dispatched to go and negotiate this with the Russians. So, I met with Minister Grachev and it turned out not to be an easy negotiation because the Russians wanted to be in IFOR, but not they did not want to be under NATO command. So, it looked like an unsolvable problem.

Over a period of about seven weeks, we had four meetings and, finally, worked out a way of doing it. The key success in these discussions was, I finally discovered, that while they did not want to be under NATO command because of all the baggage and past history they had with them, they were quite willing to work with an American general. And, so we cut a deal whereby they would report -- they sent over a three-star general, General Shetzov, who is a very fine general by the way, who would become General Joulwan's deputy and receive his orders from General Joulwan. He would then transmit those orders to their brigade in the field. The brigade in the field would receive its tactical direction from General Nash, who is our division commander. So, they ended up working for, in effect, General Joulwan and General Nash and that solved the problem. At least, on paper. I was still apprehensive about whether and how it would work and if you had asked me this question two weeks ago, I would have given you that apprehensive.... In the last two weeks, they've actually deployed their force, it is now fully in place and all this week it's been out on patrol. General Nash reports to me it is working very, very well. They have sent over, by their standards, elite forces. They are working effectively. They are working cooperatively, harmoniously with General Nash. Their basing themselves where he told them to be based. They are patrolling where he tells them to patrol. It seems to be a good unit. I think there's a good prospect it's going to work out well.

Now, why did we want to do this? We did not, to be honest with you, need another 2,000 troops in Bosnia. We could have gotten by without this Russian brigade. But, this was the biggest security problem that we have worked in Europe since the ending of the Cold War. It's going to set a pattern of how the security issues will work in decades to come. And, in this pattern, in this model, we wanted Russia to be inside the circle working with us instead of outside the circle throwing rocks at us.

And, so, I was willing to spend my time and energy and all the NATO defense ministers agreed with this move of working to get them as part of this solution so that they did not become part of the problem. So far so good. It seems to be working fine. Other questions? Yes?

Q: Sir, do you see us being able to resist the mission creep, especially where it becomes getting involved in the local policing operations of civilian matters? Do you see us getting involved in that?

A: Let me answer that question two ways. We will not be taking on -- we will be taking only a minimum, narrow definition of our mission for at least another two months. We have to get all of our forces in place first, and we still have a few more forces to get in place, which will be in place over the next week or two.

 

And, secondly, we have to complete the most stressing of our military missions, the first of which was getting our forces in there, safely. They're in there, now. The second, which was enforcing the zone of separation. That's now done. That was done 30 days after we moved in. And third, was enforcing the transfer of areas. The first part of that was done earlier this week at D+45. The second part of it, will be allowing the other military forces [inaudible] who will now occupy that [inaudible] that's going to occur at D+90. After all of this is done, all of our forces in place, then it's time for us to consider what we might be able to do not to take over those civil functions, but provide more support to the people who are doing the reconstruction, to the people who are doing the police functions, people who are supervising or carrying out the war crimes investigations.

Fundamentally, our job is providing a secure environment so all these other things can be done. But, we will have a substantial amount of combat engineer capability there. We needed it. We urgently needed it, while we were deploying.

The last, say, six months we're there, we might very well be able to use some of that combat engineering functions to do civil works, to help repair roads, help build bridges, to do things which will allow the infrastructure of Bosnia to get rebuilt so that the economy can start getting back on its feet.

We're going to be leaving there in December, and when we leave, we would like to have some reasonable prospect of peace continuing after we leave. And, that's really very much dependent on these various civil functions of getting well off the ground by then. Anything we can do to help them -- but, without assuming the responsibility for executing them -- we should be doing, I think. And, then, in about two months time, we'll be able to consider some of those functions. Any other questions? Yes?

Q: Secretary, it seems [inaudible].

A: We have, perhaps, two problems in that part of the world. The one is that Taiwan, which has been -- has a very successful economy and developing very successful political evolution as well, is thinking [inaudible] independent country. And, I can sympathize with that point of view. But, if they move seriously in that direction, they are really taking serious risks of getting in a war with China. That's one of the problems.

The other problem is that China is more and more apprehensive about Taiwan's aspirations for independence. And, they're reacting in a way which, I think, our government thinks is entirely inappropriate which is threatening them. They threaten them in various ways. They fire missiles not on them, fortunately not on Taiwan but near to them. They conduct military maneuvers. It looks as if they are planning a fairly extensive military maneuver right in the streets of Taiwan to occur just over the week before their election in Taiwan is coming up, which is their crudest form of political bullying.

So, we have these two different problems that are closely related to each other. On the one hand, we would like Taiwan to "cool it" in pushing for their independence and, thereby, provoking this kind of reaction. On the other hand, we'd like to see China stop this bullying and saber-rattling because that just -- it has the opposite effect of what's intended, that's to make the Taiwanese people think all the more about getting themselves separated from China.

All of this has been sort of happening in the last six months, whereas several years before that, China and Taiwan were getting closer together; they were doing more business and trading with each other; their relatives were going back and forth. We would like to see them get back on that track, and it's a great challenge not just to the diplomatic ingenuity of the Chinese and Taiwanese, but in terms of our own diplomacy, to find a way to be a positive influence on both countries, not just on one, but on both countries.

I don't believe that this bullying that the Chinese are doing right now is in danger of leading to a military conflict. I don't want to make too much of it. But, I think it's reprehensible. But, I'm also concerned that the Taiwanese might -- in poker terminology -- might "overplay their hand." The only reason they would overplay their hand is because they would believe that the United States would be right there to defend them if they get in trouble.

I've been asked many times in discussions with the media as to what we would do if such and such a thing happens? If China does that, or Taiwan does that... I've tried to explain that our interest is not focused on responding to that, it is trying to find ways to preventing that. A military conflict between China and Taiwan would be enormously destructive to both of those countries, not to mention risking the possibility of getting the United States involved. And, so, our best interest without question, and I understand in their best interest, is to find a way of reducing the risk of such a confrontation happening.

Thank you very much. It was good to talk to you tonight. [Applause]